by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.
virgule n. A diagonal mark "/" used especially... 
  1. to separate alternatives, as in "and/or," 
  2. to represent the word "per," as in "miles/hour," 
  3. to aid in forming contractions, as in "A/C" for aircraft, and/or 

  4. to indicate the ends of verse lines printed continuously, as in "Backward, turn backward,/ Oh, time in thy flight!/ Make me a boy again/ Just for tonight." 

    Also called "slash," "shilling,"  "solidus." 

Have you ever found a sentence with "and/or" in it that couldn't be improved in quality and/or diction by simply replacing it with "or"?  "Consult your doctor if you become sick and/or disabled."  And/or vice versa, worsened.  "California and/or bust!"  At this advanced stage in my life, I have yet to come across a case containing the "inclusive-or" that required the extra reassurance afforded by "and/or" for clarity and/or expressiveness.

The "exclusive-or" is something else, but "and/or" has nothing to do with it.  Often the "exclusive-or" is obvious:  "At the intersection, turn left or right."  If not ("The price of your entree includes soup or salad"), then better to say "but not both":  "The price of your entree includes soup or salad but not both" (but only if you want your menu to read as if it were written by an attorney).

By the way, the mathematical abbrev. "iff" (pronounced "if and only if") is available for enriching the written form of English, so too is "orr" ("or and only or"), leaving "or" with the inclusiveness offered by "and/or."   Now, "andd" ("and and only and") will see service iff it exists, which is unlikely, orr its coinage here receives lexicographic recognition.

Sloppiness in the use of "and" can be hazardous to your health.  Think of the many people who have contracted pneumonia by misunderstanding the advice, "Starve a cold and feed a fever."  The "and" is offered with the same meaning as in the proverb, "Spare the rod and spoil the child."  Less succinct but safer is the advice, "Neglecting nutrition when you get the sniffles can result in a more serious affliction."  The virgule is no help: "Starve a cold and/or feed a fever."

Because of the women's movement (see person), the virgule has slashed its way into more sentences than you can shake a twig at.  Lacking sexless pronouns other than "it" and/or "its," the expedient accommodation of women's wishes requires the "alternative" use of the virgule (sense 1).  The language is hardly made more capable and/or sentences smoother with the inclusion of he/she, him/her, his/hers, himself/herself.  Oh right, and now there's an abbr. s/he.

The virgule is indispensable for ratios (sense 2) and/or quotients.  In contractions (sense 3) and/or distinctive abbreviations, I have found the virgule handy enough (L/M "left message," L/T "left turn," Q/A for "quality assurance," F/U for "follow up") and/or confusing (N/A can mean "not available" and/or "not applicable").

Finally, the virgule saves paper by stringing verse along a line (sense 4).  Not much, though.  Besides, poetry, other than my own, may be the best use of the forests.

Whatever the merits of the word "virgule," too few people know the word.  Better, I've found, to say "slash."

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